The WEA welcomes the NIACE manifesto – not least because it complements much of our own manifesto launched on 11th June at Birkbeck University of London at the WEA’s Annual Lecture given by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thomspon.
A fixed date general election in the UK has focussed many minds on what the issues for debate should be between now and May. This is given particular emphasis by the anticipation of continued austerity despite welcome signs of recovery in the economy (or, at least, parts of it). In addition there is significant political uncertainty and, for many people, lack of clarity on the policy positions of the main parties. This is combined with the ‘meta’ issues of the global financial crisis, international instability, growing inequality and demographic issues.
Education is an infrastructural investment in the future – not a recurring expenditure line. It isn’t just a policy area for BIS or the DfE – it applies to all areas of public service. This is perhaps most striking in the area of health where the key drivers for improvement will be either improvements in clinical technology or patients taking control and managing their health. The latter is an educational process.
The NIACE manifesto majors on skills and learning whereas the WEA’s nine points are somewhat broader. We would support the second priority on ‘New Localism’ which aligns to some extent with one of our main campaigns ‘Deciding locally’. However, to succeed we believe this would need to go further in engaging communities in more of the decisions which affect them. We see this as key to democracy and to re-establishing public confidence in the decisions of agencies and government.
The third priority – around Personal Skills accounts – is very welcome as it is almost exactly the same as our manifesto’s call for Training and Development accounts. The success of the recent introduction of auto-enrolment into pensions – ‘nudging’ workers and employers into planning for the future – provides an ideal model for shared ownership of training and skills development for the whole workforce. We believe this should be combined with a massive extension of the Living Wage to reduce in-work poverty and provide the elements for decent work for the future.
Naturally we also welcome Priority 4 – the funding of basic skills is critical. We would emphasise the importance of ESOL more strongly because of the need to address intolerance and exclusion in Britain today – but we’re sure NIACE would be with us on this.
The key now is to promote debate and discussion on the priorities in both our manifestos to ensure that the value of adult learning to a successful society and economy is heard and understood over the next year.
Director for Membership, Volunteering and Marketing